Landmark study finds nicotine gum, patch fail smokers

Smokers hoping to kick the habit for good this New Year be warned: a new study says the patch is no more effective than quitting cold turkey.

Researchers at Harvard University and University of Massachusetts Boston found that nicotine replacement therapies, including the patch, gum, inhaler or nasal spray, did little to help smokers quit in the long term and in some cases, worsened the habit.

“We would have liked to see that (nicotine replacement therapies) were effective in abstinence because the toll smoking takes is devastating. But unfortunately, we see that this approach is not the answer,” said co-author Hillel Alpert of the Harvard School of Public Health.

Yet these therapies, long supported by medical studies as effective, remain a centrepiece of anti-smoking programs and policies in both the U.S. and Canada.

More than 68,000 smokers in Ontario have received nicotine replacement therapies free since 2005 under the government-funded Smoking Treatment for Ontario Patients program. In July 2011, the Ontario government introduced a $3-million project that provides free, over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapies and counselling to smokers.

But in the first study of its kind, published Monday in the journal Tobacco Control, U.S. researchers examined the long-term effects of nicotine replacement therapies in nearly 800 adults in Massachusetts who had quit smoking in the previous two years, and found little benefit over a six-year period.

“(Nicotine replacement therapies) are intended to treat withdrawal in the short term. They’re not the silver bullet to help you quit,” said Gregory Connolly, director of the Center for Global Tobacco Control at the Harvard School of Public Health, co-author with Alpert and Lois Biener of the University of Massachusetts Boston.

The smokers, surveyed three times between 2001 and 2006, were asked whether they used a nicotine replacement therapy, how long they used the therapy and whether they joined a quit-smoking program or consulted with a professional to help them quit.

At each stage of the survey, researchers found that nearly a third of people who had used a nicotine replacement therapy had relapsed. Heavy smokers who used nicotine replacement therapies without professional counselling were twice as likely to return to smoking, according to the study.

The findings cast doubt on publicly-funded programs that tout nicotine-replacement therapies as an effective way to curb smoking, said Connolly.

For Peter Selby, head of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s nicotine dependence clinic in Toronto, nicotine replacement therapies are critical in helping vulnerable populations wean themselves off cigarettes.

“Medication is not the only answer, but it’s part of a comprehensive approach,” said Selby.

“In a country like Canada where the burden of smoking is borne by people who can least afford to smoke, you need to have options for them to get help,” adds Selby, lead investigator on the provincially funded Smoking Treatment for Ontario Patients study, which provides the therapies free to smokers in the study.

Therapies could help people in the early stages of quitting, said Connelly, but, based on the latest research, they don’t appear to be sustainable.

Depression linked to heart attacks – study

PEOPLE with depression could be at greater risk of a heart attack or heart disease, a new study has found.

The study, published by an international research team led by a Charles Sturt University (CSU) medical scientist, investigated the combined effects of two major health concerns, depression and diabetes, on the incidence of heart attack.

It found that depression in people seemed to change the way heart rate is controlled, which increases the risk of heart attack, Dr Herbert Jelinek from CSU’s School of Community Health said in a statement today.

Of even more concern was that diabetes seemed to worsen the risk of cardiac arrest in people with depression, he said.

“These results have implications worldwide, particularly in countries with high rates of diabetes such as the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom,” Dr Jelinek said in a statement today.
“Importantly, anti-depression medication does not appear to lessen this risk.”

He said scientists had shown that a simple electrocardiogram (ECG) test can show that a person with depression can run a higher risk of a heart attack.

This test would make it easier to assess heart attack risk in regional and rural areas around Australia.

“We are aiming to identify early changes in mental health associated with diabetes to enable better and faster intervention that addresses this very important health problem,” the statement said.

The results came from research studies carried out by the Albury-based Diabetes Complications Research Initiative, which is coordinated by Dr Jelinek and researchers from the University of Sydney.

UK to investigate French-made breast implants

LONDON—The British government launched an investigation Saturday into whether potentially faulty breast implants fitted by a French company pose a risk to women.
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley ordered the urgent review of the safety of silicon implants made by the now-defunct French company Poly Implant Prothese after saying he had received new information about them.

The implants were pulled off the market last year in countries around Europe and South America amid fears they could rupture and leak silicone into the body.
France’s health safety agency said the implants appear to be more rupture-prone than other types. French investigators also said PIP used industrial silicone instead of the medical variety to save money. However, the medical risks posed by industrial silicone are unclear.
Around 40,000 women in Britain have such implants.

Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency had said it did not see enough proof of cancer or an excessive risk of rupture to recommend women in Britain have the implants removed, but Lansley said the newly received data prompted the government decision to investigate.

“I want to reassure women that if any new data comes to light which calls into question the safety of these implants, we will act swiftly to help them,” he said. “Our top priority is making sure that women get the correct advice so that they are kept safe.”

Lansley said Britain’s medical regulator wouldAdvertisement also carry out an audit of the content and quality of data that cosmetic surgery providers share with authorities. Prof. Bruce Keogh, the medical director of Britain’s National Health Service, will lead the investigation.

France’s health system has recommended that women with the PIP implants get them replaced and has agreed to pay for surgeries. Brazil said Friday that it has permanently banned PIP implants, but did not guarantee that the state would pay for women to have them agreed.

Earlier in the week, Venezuela said it would offer free surgery for women to remove the PIP implants, and in Argentina 50 women threatened to sue their plastic surgeons if they don’t get free replacements of the implants.

Suspected bird flu case in China

Local health authorities in southern China say they suspect a bus driver has been infected with the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus.

A statement from the Shenzhen and Guangdong health authorities says the 39-year-old man tested positive for the virus in Shenzhen city, which borders Hong Kong.

Friday’s announcement comes a week after two dead birds in Hong Kong tested positive for H5N1. More than 19,000 birds were slaughtered Dec. 21 after the first bird a chicken tested postive.

The statement says the man surnamed Chen was hospitalized with a fever on Dec. 21 and tested positive for the highly pathogenic H5N1 on Dec. 30. The Guangdong provincial health authority has reported the case to the Health Ministry for further diagnosis.

Chen is in critical condition.

Unhealthy lifestyle link to cancer research study finds

A third of the cancers diagnosed each year in the UK – more than 100,000 – are caused by smoking, alcohol, unhealthy diets and obesity, research showed.

The most comprehensive review of cancer and lifestyles ever conducted in the UK showed that 45 per cent of all cancers in men could be prevented, compared with 40 per cent of cancers in women.

Smoking is still the most important factor when it comes to causing cancer. The study found it was responsible for 23 per cent of cancers in men and 15.6 per cent in women.

But the review also found that a lack of fruit and vegetables was responsible for 6.1 per cent of cancers in men, while being overweight causes 6.9 per cent of cancers in women.

“Many people believe cancer is down to fate or ‘in the genes’ and that it is the luck of the draw whether they get it,” according to the study’s author, Professor Max Parkin from Queen Mary, University of London.

“Looking at all the evidence, it is clear that around 40 per cent of all cancers are caused by things we mostly have the power to change.”

The work by Cancer Research UK found there were an estimated 314,250 cases of cancer across Britain last year, with tobacco responsible for causing 60,837 of them.

“We know, especially during the Christmas party season, that it is hard to watch what you eat and limit alcohol, and we do not want people to feel guilty about having a drink or indulging a bit more than usual,” the charity’s Sara Hiom said.

“But it is very important for people to understand that long-term changes to their lifestyles can really reduce their cancer risk.”

The full research was published in the British Journal of Cancer.

Fake doctor injects cement in woman bottom

Story of the day

A US woman who wanted to work at a nightclub started searching for someone who could perform plastic surgery at a cheap price to give her a more curvaceous body.

What she found was a woman posing as a doctor who filled her buttocks with cement, mineral oil and flat-tyre sealant, Florida police say.

The suspect – who police say was born a man and identifies as a woman – apparently performed the surgery on herself, and investigators say she may have victimised others.

Oneal Ron Morris, 30, was arrested on Friday after a year on the run and has been charged with practising medicine without a licence with serious bodily injury.

Police photos show Morris as a small-framed woman with bee-stung pouty lips, arched eyebrows, oversized hoop earrings – and a large backside. She was released from jail on bond.

The victim, who is not being named due to medical privacy laws, paid US$700 ($702) for a series of injections in May 2010. She was referred to Morris by a friend.

Morris injected some type of tube in several sites around her bottom, pumping it full of a toxic concoction. Morris reassured the woman when the pain became too intense, police said.

Miami Gardens Police Sergeant Bill Bamford said Morris told the woman: “Oh don’t worry, you’ll be fine. We just keep injecting you with the stuff and it all works itself out.”

Bamford said the victim was reluctant to come forward. She quickly went to two hospitals due to severe abdominal pain and infected sores on her buttocks accompanied by flu-like symptoms. But she left each time, too embarrassed to tell doctors what she’d done.

Her mother eventually took her to another hospital, where alarmed doctors pressed her for information. They alerted the Department of Health.

“The doctors knew no licenced physician in his right mind would ever do this,” Bamford said.

The victim is still recovering from the surgery and says it’s too painful to work. She also has racked up numerous medical bills.

Authorities believe there are other victims who may be too embarrassed to come forward.

Women on the pill tend to pick ‘duds’, study claims

WOMAN who take birth control pills tend to choose as partners men who are less attractive and worse in bed but a sounder bet for a long-term relationship, according to a study published yesterday.

Probing the effect of contraceptive hormones on mating choice, researchers questioned 2519 women in the United States, Czech Republic, Britain and Canada who had had at least one child.

The volunteers were asked to rate their relationship for general satisfaction and sexual pleasure and the attractiveness of their partner or, retrospectively, of their ex.

Oral contraception had been used by 1005 women when they met their partner, while 1514 had used no form of hormonal birth control at the first encounter.

“Our results show some positive and negative consequences of using the pill when a woman meets her partner,” said Craig Roberts of Stirling University, Scotland, who led the investigation.

 “Such women may, on average, be less satisfied with the sexual aspects of their relationship but more so with non-sexual aspects. Overall, women who met their partner on the pill had longer relationships – by two years on average – and were less likely to separate.”

Roberts suspects birth control pills skew the sub-conscious “chemistry” by which a woman makes a mating choice.

Previously, he found that using oral contraceptives altered women’s preferences for men’s body odor.

When they did not take birth control pills, women were subjected to the strong hormonal swings of the menstrual cycle.

During ovulation, they unwittingly preferred the smell of men who were genetically dissimilar.

The evolutionary explanation for this is that babies that are born from genetically dissimilar couples tend to be healthier and have a better chance of survival.

But when women took contraceptive pills, they preferred the smell of genetically similar men, Roberts found.

This was because the normal hormonal swings of the menstrual cycle evened out under the effect of the contraception.

The hormone levels typically reflected the non-fertile phase of the menstrual cycle, when women “are more attracted to men who appear more caring and reliable – good dads,” said Roberts.

Although such men are a better choice for long-term partnerships, the risk of a relationship breakdown is still there.

“Women who used oral contraception when they met their partner tended to find him less attractive, engaged in compliant sex and rejected sexual advances more frequently as the relationship progressed, and were more likely to initiate separation if it occurred,” the study notes bleakly.

The new research gives an important statistical push to the theory of sexual chemistry but also raises a dilemma.

Should a woman go for Mr. Hunk or Mr. Nice? To women who are mistrustful of what their body is telling them, going off oral contraception and using a condom could help provide the answer, Roberts suggested.

“Choosing a non-hormonal barrier method of contraception for a few months before getting married might be one way for a woman to check or reassure herself that she’s still attracted to her partner,” he said.

The volunteers for the study were recruited through personal contact, social networking sites and advertising on pregnancy and parenthood forum websites. Of the 2,519 women, 1,761 women were still in a relationship with the biological father of their first child.

Facebook helps rescue of paralysed dad

A British father who woke up paralysed due to a crippling spine condition says he has Facebook to thank after he appealed to his friends to rescue him.

Peter Casaru, 59, posted on Facebook that he was unable to move his legs and could not call for an ambulance from his remote cottage in Brecon, South Wales, because the battery in his mobile phone was dead.

It took him over an hour to crawl to his laptop where he managed to post a message alerting his contacts to the emergency.

The dad of one, who lives alone, wrote: “Can someone call 999, Ambulance for me, I need one now. I have fractued my back. dtuck ob floor. no phone abd glasses, toucvh typing.. please help me.” (sic)

Friends as far away as New York and Vancouver replied when they saw his updates and tried to call for help.

But it was his friend Juliet McFarlane, who lives just six miles away, who was first to call 999 and two ambulances arrived at his house just 20 minutes later.

Casaru, a photographer, said his doctors told him the spinal spasm he suffered could have killed him if he had not received emergency treatment.

 Casaru has had spinal problems since breaking his back in a quad-bike accident six years ago.

He said: “That’s the luck part of the whole story: that Facebook friends saved me.”

Casaru thanked all the friends who left messages and tried to help adding: “I’m always joking when I go on Facebook, so I’m just glad they took me seriously.”

Carl Wood father of IVF dies

TRIBUTES last night flowed for Carl Wood, the father of in vitro fertilisation whose ground-breaking research offered hope to infertile couples around the globe.

Professor Wood and his Monash University team achieved the first IVF pregnancy in 1973. Australia’s first test-tube baby, Candice Reed, was born in 1980. More than 45,000 babies have been born worldwide with the technology.

Professor Wood died in a nursing home on Friday after a seven-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease that left him unable to communicate. He was 82.

IVF Australia medical director Peter Illingworth described Professor Wood as a “visionary” whose team’s research had a monumental influence.

The gynaecologist’s impact on medicine extended far beyond the development of IVF. Monash IVF medical director Gab Kovacs, who began working with Professor Wood as a 22-year-old student, said: “He was at the forefront of everything, always 10 years ahead of his time. Carl pioneered the monitoring of babies during labour, which saved many, many lives. He was also one of the first to suggest there was more to women than just their organs and pushed for the introduction of sexual counselling and abortion reform. More recently, he advocated minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery.”

 Professor Kovacs said his mentor was “both brilliant and vague”, known for his “tiny quirks” such as taking up windsurfing in his 60s and studying bricklaying because it looked interesting.

Professor Wood played a pivotal role in developing the Monash University faculty of medicine, having been appointed a professor in his mid-30s — a feat almost unheard of at the time.

“He always took a youthful and progressive approach, the first to say ‘Let’s try something different’,” Professor Kovacs said.

“Carl was a little bit of a rebel. He found it very hard to discipline the students when they misbehaved because he remembered what he was like in their place. He was still mischievous even in his old age.”

Professor Wood is survived by his former wife and carer, Judy, his three adult children and one grandchild.

Then it’s just not HP sauce

BRITS are up in arms after the recipe for their beloved and iconic HP sauce was secretly changed by US food giant Heinz — with the blame placed on the British government.

The British brown sauce, now produced by Heinz, had its salt level reduced from 2.1g per 100g to 1.3g per 100g in line with a British government health initiative.

Despite what might appear to be a minor change, connoisseurs including chef Marco Pierre White, who has three Michelin stars, have vented their anger over the new sauce. Mr White, who trained the likes of Gordon Ramsay and Heston Blumenthal, told London’s The Daily Telegraph he had sent back a meal of sausages and mash at posh London pub The Hansom Cab — owned by broadcaster Piers Morgan — thinking the sausages were off.

“At first, I thought it was the sausages, but it wasn’t,” Mr White said. “It was the HP, which tasted disgusting. It was definitely dodgy. I had no idea they had changed the recipe.

“I was brought up on HP sauce in Yorkshire. My old man used to say ketchup was for southerners and HP was for northerners.

“My father would turn in his grave if he discovered they changed the recipe.”

Heinz explained the change to the 116-year-old recipe by saying the company was committed to lowering salt levels as directed by the British government.

In line with changes in consumer tastes, Heinz has long been dedicated to reducing added salt in recipes, in line with government health targets, a Heinz spokesman said.

HP sauce was developed in Nottingham, central England, in 1895. It was named HP sauce when its inventor, grocer Frederick Gibson Garton, heard it was being served in London’s houses of parliament.

For many years, a picture of the houses of parliament and their famous Big Ben clock have adorned the sauce’s label.

The sauce contains malt vinegar, tomato, dates, tamarind extract, sweetener and spices.